Disaster Media + Communications + Data

I took a moment to read and annotate a recent introduction for a special issue on Disaster Media by Lisa Parks and Janet Walker. The article gives helpful framings to understand media in/of COVID-19, but also environmental crisis (including air pollution in Southern California and Hurricane Katrina). They also point to examples for readings data visualizations as disaster media and cultural products, focusing particularly on COVID-19 graphs and satellite imagery (relevant to understanding our own role of remotely "tracking" or  "mapping" COVID-19 cultural shifts). Given my own earlier training in media and communications studies, the article helped me see how a field of "disaster media" is just being articulated. In another article where Parks is "mapping" the discipline more broadly, she observes that former media studies students might now gravitate toward critical data studies. True in my case.

The authors are efficient at connecting COVID-19 to issues of environmental justice and temporality (relevant for my teaching, and maybe interesting for your work, James!). For example, they call for heightened production of public, open-access media of diverse forms (to address disinformation and boost media literacy), while acknowledging the conundrum that we need more energy-efficient media ("no" or "low carbon media", also see Finn and Rosner's syllabus about information in troubled worlds). In regards to time, Parks and Walker argue that "disaster media need to be considered in relation to the multiple temporalities of climate disruption (from the longue durée of glacial flow to uncertain and sudden extreme weather)." I'm less convinced by the heavy reliance on Naomi Klein's notion of "coronavirus capitalism" and while the authors acknowledge that "low-carbon media" have always existed in more resource-strapped contexts, I would like to learn more about concrete examples.  

In sum, the article helped me draw conceptual connections between what currently are separate essays -- COVID-19 and communications. The reflections on COVID visualizations in the article point to a lot of potential for deeper analysis. Also, it made me think about what kind of media are we producing as a research group. Personally, I'm still thinking about the different angles I bring from my own training (media studies, STS and now critical data studies) -- and which of them I would like to focus on. Certainly the article helped me think expansively from all three fields, and I think the COVID-19 project is set up nicely to support that -- and yes, all collaborators welcome.


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